E-cigarettes: not just for quitters?

E-cigarettes: not just for quitters?

There has been some talk in the press recently regarding a new US study about e-cigarettes, which seems to show that e‑cigarettes can contribute to the recruitment of young people (16+) to smoking.  The value of this study is that it was a longitudinal study, where the same respondents are followed up at a later date.
The press coverage and the study itself are reviewed by NHS Behind the Headlines, a site we value very much for its clear accounts of health stories in the news, reporting of which may be over-excited:
We reviewed what we at SHEU had found out about e-cigarettes in SHEUNews in September 2014, using a cross-sectional analysis, but thought it useful to have another peek following the publication of Young People into 2015.  We have been including questions about e-cigarettes in many more surveys and have another stack of results to examine.  However, we are still suffering a little with the diversity of questions used across the country, so again we will restrict our analysis to just one authority.  Doing the same style of analysis, we found among 3173 Year 10 students (14-15y):

Percentages of Year 10 pupils in one authority reporting experience of e-cigarettes by smoking status, 2014.

This is very much the same pattern as we saw last year: current smokers are the most likely to be current users of e-cigarettes, Differences from the analysis we did last year are:

  • (a) overall experimentation and use of e-cigarettes is higher across the board in this authority, more or less double among the never-smokers and the triers
  • (b) for the first time we have found a significant number of never-smokers who occasionally or regularly use e‑cigarettes (21 pupils in total)
  • (c) we also see a small fraction of those who have only tried smoking who are regular users of e‑cigarettes
  • (d) those who want to give up use less often than those who don't want to give up – the reverse of what we reported last year. 

Are there any new implications from this analysis? 
We still think there is little evidence for the recruitment into smoking of never-smokers through e-cigarettes, but this is a less definitive conclusion than before. 
And the frequent use of e-cigarettes by smokers who do not wish to give up contradicts the hope that e‑cigarettes will used mostly as a route out of smoking cigarettes by current smokers: in fact, of the 76 regular users of e-cigarettes in this sample, just 15 are smokers who want to give up.